I've been thinking a lot about change the last few weeks as I am recovering from hip arthroscopy. Other than getting over the operation itself and the challenges of being on crutches, plus not being able to 'do' activities I normally don't give a thought too, I've been doing lots of exercise as part of my rehabilitation. Much has been written about the challenges of rehabilitative exercise. When I talk about this I am not just speaking about exercise given post-operation (which is generally termed 'rehabilitative'), but also exercises that are given in order to aid recovery from an injury, or movement which aids in reducing muscular tension, correcting postural imbalances, managing chronic pain etc., Movement is so fundamental to life, and we know that we feel better physically and physiologically when we do move, yet many of us struggle when we are given a set of exercises to do. Why is this?
There are many barriers to committing to a programme of exercise including pain, fear, a perceived lack of time, depression, anxiety, helplessness, low self-efficacy and poor social support. Socioeconomic factors also play a role as does personal outlook and our relationship to our body. Some people are able to engage much better than others when it comes to taking on the responsibility for self-care, while others find that the mental and physical challenges of a programme exercise can be hard to overcome.
Clearly though, for anything to change, we need to be the facilitator of the change. It is generally well reported in professional journals that people who are able to engage with their exercises and do them regularly, will usually recover more quickly and fully than those who do not. In cases where we are dealing with chronic pain, injuries or musculoskeletal tension, engaging with a programme of exercise regularly is fundamental to reducing pain, muscular tension, restoring lost movement and healing ourselves. In all situations it is important that you take on board responsibility for your own well being. This requires a making a commitment to care for yourself.
For many of us, making that commitment can be quite hard to do. Deep down we all have a powerful ego which resists change at all costs, because it sees change as something dangerous. That ego is at work even when some deeper, more intuitive part of us knows that the things we are trying to engage with will be good for us!
Something which yoga and meditation have taught me is that we are constantly viewing the world through the mirror of emotions. When I first started my yoga practice over 10 years ago it never occurred to me that it might bring up fear, anger, resentment, frustration even boredom. Much the same thing happened in my meditation practice. I remember quite clearly when I was training at Yogaview and found out that I was going to be learning to meditate. When I first started sitting 20 mins a day felt unbelievably hard, and I frequently thought that I could not do it. I used to sit with (what felt like) overwhelming waves of emotions inside me, numb feet and somedays constant fidgeting. But slowly and surely I trained myself to sit, and I started to see those emotions for what they really were, just reflections of my ego and its view of the world around me. After a while meditation became something very profound. I started to enjoy it and see how it was changing my life. I spoke to my teacher Tom one day towards the end of my training, and he told me that a time would come where I would drift out of my meditation practice........I almost feel over with disbelief! It could not be possible, I reasoned, that this wonderful, life-changing thing that I had discovered would leave me. But you know, it did, and when that day came I realised that everything changes.
The reason I am sharing this story is because I want to say that it is always possible to change, but that change takes time, and it almost never happens as quickly as we think that it should. Part of the reason why we are sometimes are resistant to doing things that would be good for us, such as rehabilitative exercise, is because the ego fears that the change might involve us having to let go of something, or that the status quo of our lives will be disrupted. It may also try to tell us that it will be to frightening to do this new thing, that we don't have time, or that what we have been given to do won't work. The ego is great at this kind of talk!
What my yoga and meditation practice have taught me is that we must try to become unattached to outcomes in order that we can allow change to happen at its own pace. They have also taught me that change is always happening but often so slowly that we find it hard to see it. Which brings me back to where I started. If you are recovering from an operation, or suffering from some form of pain in your body, then making a commitment to yourself to engage with the process of self-care through exercise is really important. Exercise may be quite specific, such as the targeted exercises I have been given to do post-op, but it might also be things like doing restorative yoga, walking, tai chi or somatic movement. Whatever it is that you are doing you need to do it often and with an open mind. There will be days when it seems like a chore, or when it feels dull, and almost certainly some when it feels like nothing is changing. On those days remind yourself that change is a slow process, enjoy moving your body and don't worry about what your mind wants. The words of Yodi are very apt here, "Do or do not. There is no try".